Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer has accused his former golden boy Oscar Piastri and manager Mark Webber of colluding with Fernando Alonso to co-ordinate their exits from the French outfit, and hinted at involvement from former Renault chief Flavio Briatore.
Szafnauer threatened to sue Piastri after Alpine announced the driver as part of their 2023 lineup, only for the Australian to refuse, having already reportedly signed a contract with McLaren, prompting a huge mammoth stand-off between the parties.
“Look, I have no record of it, but this is Formula 1 and maybe in a couple of years someone says that they have evidence of shared information, I would not be surprised,” Szafnauer fumed.
“I always tell everyone that in Formula 1 you have to act as if everyone knows everything. That there are no secrets in these things. When you ask someone not to say anything, they act like everyone knows.
“That’s how I’ve run my business in Formula 1 for 25 years. And if this has happened, you should not be surprised.”
The situation is complicated further by Daniel Ricciardo, who McLaren want Piastri to replace given the 33-year-old’s struggles in papaya.
But Ricciardo has a contract for 2023 and has quoted a buy-out fee of $21 million if the Woking team want to shift him a year early.
“Maybe more, or maybe less,” journalist Peter Windsor said when reporting the news.
“Maybe they can negotiate it down or they can finance a seat for him somewhere else. In any case, that will be the key before everything can fall into place.”
Ex-F1 driver links Briatore
Meanwhile, German pundit Christian Danner lobbed another grenade into the melee when he linked a shadowy figure from the Enstone team’s past
“It’s classic Flavio,” Danner, who raced in 36 Grand Prix in the 1980s, told German outlet Motorsport Magazin.
“There was certainly a contract for Piastri that Flavio has skimmed over, there was definitely a clause.
“When he believes in someone, he has the foresight to plan in a positive sense – and not just ruthlessly, which is logically the case in this business.”
The flamboyant yet divisive Briatore entered F1 in 1990 as team principal of Benetton, who are now Alpine.
He won seven championships with the team, most recently with Alonso who he still manages, but departed under a cloud in 2009 after the Crashgate controversy was unearthed.
He was briefly banned from the sport, but his links with Alonso have led Danner to point the finger at the Italian.
“I could imagine Piastri being able to free himself from Alpine’s grip, so that he can hopefully drive for McLaren for the next two years and then be free for a big deal,” Danner said. “That definitely has Briatore’s signature.
“It can all go wrong, of course, but if it works out, then he [Briatore] has done everything right.”